She is the great new hope of Indian badminton and he is the legendary coach behind a series of young champions. P.V. Sindhu may have lost an opportunity to win gold at the Rio Olympics 2016, but coach Pullela Gopichand still embraced the moment with tears. The Dronacharya of Indian,She is the great new hope of Indian badminton and he is the legendary coach behind a series of young champions. P.V. Sindhu may have lost an opportunity to win gold at the Rio Olympics 2016, but coach Pullela Gopichand still embraced the moment with tears. The Dronacharya of Indian badminton tells the ace shuttler how proud he feels when players from his academy represent the nation on a global platform.SINDHU: Looking back for a moment at Rio. Did you think I would win a medal?GOPICHAND: Well, I recall you losing in the first round earlier in Australia. You had an injury from which you had to recover and then train. We took the flight home sensing that with some proper planning there were prospects for an Olympic medal, like it happened with Saina (Nehwal) in 2012.SINDHU: I remember clearly you telling me that these are the last days you will get to enjoy as tough training lies ahead for the Olympics. You also gave me a letter listing dos and don’ts, especially no mobile phone and no junk food.GOPICHAND: It was inevitable and somewhere in my mind I was confident it was possible-there was a feeling of ‘yes, we can’. I don’t know if you remember 2010, but when I came back from the Asian Games, I called up and said, “Tomorrow morning, we start at 4.30 am.” Neither you nor your father asked me a question. You said, ‘We’ll be there.’ So somewhere down the line I was confident that you would make it. The phone was a tricky thing. I knew you were addicted to that phone. So I had to make sure that distraction disappeared. We did some unusual things too, like using towels as nets and practising taps in the room. I thought it was bizarre. But today, do you think it was useful?advertisementSINDHU: Yes, in a way, it was very useful in the game. Even practising the dribbles and cross-court strokes using chairs. It was bizarre.GOPICHAND: I recall vividly the first match against Michelle Li. Every morning, we practised a particular stroke for an hour-and-a-half, several hundred times, so that you practise and familiarise playing that shot. But you did not play that stroke in the first two games. Then, 17 points into the third game you still had not played that effective stroke. Finally, you did for what was probably the most important point of the match. What were your thoughts at that point of time? Did the strokes that you trained to play at practice sessions cross your mind?SINDHU: When playing against Michelle Li, my first game was very important. It was my first Olympics match and I was, I must confess, a bit nervous. And, after losing the first game, I was wondering what was happening. You helped restore my confidence saying, “Okay, just one point and keep the focus.” Even after winning the second and third game, I was feeling low. But yours was a timely reminder, asking me to play one point at a time. It infused confidence in me and I began enjoying the way I played. (Laughs)GOPICHAND: Do you recall the Asian Championship match you played against Wang Yihan? Do you also remember leading, losing it, crying and then saying you do not want to play any more, you want to come back? There were a couple of such instances during matches in different championships. Those seem funny now, but to me they were great moments.SINDHU: Were you tense when I was playing the Olympics?GOPICHAND: Before that historic semi-final, I actually thought that I was beyond the stage of turning tense about anything. Even during the World Super Series finals, if someone had assessed my stress levels, he would have discovered that they were very low. At the Olympics, when you played that tough first round match against Michelle Li, I was okay. It was the same even during the finals against Carolina Marin. No stress whatsoever. Some tense moments though… a little bit. It’s a match. Anything can happen. You were friendly about the match and you took things in your stride. I have always thought of myself as somebody who handles pressure very well. Then, in a rush, the memories of my experience at Sydney, way back in 2000, crossed my mind. I thought it did not exist within me. But it surfaced suddenly on that day before the semi-finals. What passed through me was the feeling that we have won, we have beaten a Commonwealth champion, beaten Tai Tzu-ying, beaten Wang Yihan and then the grim prospect of losing the semi-final. You could lose the third position, finish fourth and actually end up without a medal. Those were anxious times. Now that you are done with it and have an Olympic medal, you have probably another 8-10 years of play ahead. I am happy for you.advertisementSINDHU: After the semi-finals at Rio were over, you had tears in your eyes. I did not really expect that from you, but I was happy that I had one more round to play, having made it to the finals. But your eyes welled with tears.GOPICHAND: Those tears were waiting to flow and you were probably too young to understand what it meant. I think the very thought that you will be getting at least an Olympic silver, if not gold, in badminton, after Saina’s bronze at the earlier Olympics, meant a lot more to me than to you. For me, the entire enervating experience was like being in a treasured zone. The fact is that I was so obsessed about the training programme that I wanted to go back home and was even very clear what food I would have as a tremendous satisfaction following the rewarding experience. There was no question of going out to dine as we had to prepare for the finals. My worries were also as to what would happen if I am injured and how it would affect your practice sessions in the run-up to the final. I was in a way paranoid about the apprehensions of falling ill or being injured and what it would do to the entire training schedule. All of them seemed like critical elements in the preparation for the final. Somewhere for me, the whole thing was very sacred, very vital and the tears were very genuine. It was not so during the finals. My deep desire is to watch two of my students play the finals of an epochal event and then listen to the national anthem being played.SINDHU: Beyond badminton, what were your thoughts after that historic day at Rio, while I was sitting with Wang Yihan at night and you came over and asked, “Are you aware…?”GOPICHAND: I have travelled on the circuit for 10 to 15 years. I have had good friends. But I have never had a Chinese friend who does not speak the language. You beat her in the quarter-finals and won the medal and yet she was very happy that you won and she came into the room and both of you warmed up to each other. Following her loss to you in the quarterfinals, she announced her retirement from professional badminton. She’d been world No. 1, Asian Games gold medallist, Commonwealth and All England winner. You took photographs too. I think that for me was the moment. I think as much as I like what you do as a player on court, the way that you bond with people off court delights me even more. I really hope that this medal and this adulation which has come post-Rio doesn’t change the genuineness that people like in you.advertisementSINDHU: On our return, I did not imagine or expect the overwhelming response. People were saying you have no idea what actually happened. Those were amazing moments for me, definitely for you as well. I never thought I would be welcomed back home with such a warm reception. There were children standing at many places on the route from the airport to the stadium at Gachibowli. I was almost in tears with all the joy.GOPICHAND: To me, it was like a playback of the reception that then chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu gave on my winning the All-England championship. The reception he gave me was phenomenal and there was an equally good reception in my hometown too. When Saina won too, there was similar adulation. I also know it’s not going to be forever. But I think the intensity, the fever, the fervour with which people actually latched on to you as a person and to that coveted medal, what it actually meant for me was that it was not merely a story of us but what sport can do for a nation. For me, I never imagined that a medal would lift the spirits of a nation so high. That said, how do you see badminton in the future? How do you think sport will be for the next generation and especially for women?SINDHU: I think it has changed a lot. There has been a defining change. I don’t feel the pressure of expectations-not every player gets this rare privilege. There is now a sense of pride about sport, women in sport, and especially badminton. I have a sister, a doctor. When we were children and I started to play badminton and decided to take it up as a career, several people asked my mom, “Is it okay? Is she doing well?” Definitely, my parents had an innate belief in me. Now, there is a sea change. If I talk about women in India today, nobody would assume that a woman cannot do well and excel. Now, there is greater faith in what women can do and achieve. It happens at the badminton academy itself where parents come up to me and ask for suggestions about becoming sportswomen. (Laughs) All I say is “Work hard, do well”, and wish them all the best. There is no scope for complacency if you want to be on top of the world. That’s true for any of them as it is for me.